“The Government will work to ensure sustainable activity in and near Svalbard. We wish to enhance safety and security associated with increased ship traffic in the north. Therefore, it is important that we establish new rules for passenger ships operating in the waters of Svalbard. The rules are intended to prevent accidents and reduce the consequences of any accidents occurring in this remote and vulnerable area,” says the Minister of Trade and Industry, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen.


The new Regulations apply in the territorial waters surrounding Svalbard and will make sure that all passenger ships are constructed, equipped and operated in a way that provides satisfactory safety of life, health, property and environment on Svalbard. This applies to both Norwegian and foreign ships.


The Regulations may involve conversions and modifications for ships not holding international certificates (SOLAS). For these ships, a five-year transitional arrangement has been established to give the companies the opportunity to plan the phase-in of new rules and, if applicable, spread the costs over several years.


“There are certain things that must be taken into account when regulating the shipping industry in Svalbard. Ship safety and security is top priority for us,” says Acting Director General of Navigation and Shipping, Lars Alvestad.


Through our regulatory work, the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) has established a dialogue with the industry, particularly the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO). Dialogue meetings were arranged in both Oslo and Svalbard prior to the consultation. A number of useful comments were received, which led to adjustments of the proposal. At the same time, the NMA has maintained a good dialogue with the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Governor of Svalbard, both providing generic feedback.


“The NMA feels that both the industry and public authorities have been constructive and shown an understanding for the safety level on which the new Regulations are based,” says Alvestad.


Facts and background:

Up until now, requirements for passenger ships operating in the territorial waters surrounding Svalbard have been described in a guidance circular, RSV 01-2017. The companies have been allowed to carry passengers in Svalbard having various certificates and safety standards. This circular will now be superseded by the new Regulations.


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has previously adopted specific rules adapted to the special conditions in polar waters. The Polar Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2017, sets out binding global regulations for ships engaged on international voyages which will operate in polar waters. The international focus has encouraged us to consider rules for passenger ships in our polar waters.

Svalbard falls within the territorial scope of application of the Polar Code, and the considerations behind the implementation of the Polar Code are also applicable to passenger ships operating in Svalbard. Based on this, the NMA has assessed the need to introduce the requirements of the Polar Code for these ships as well.


For ships in Svalbard holding a Passenger Ship Safety Certificate in accordance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, the new Regulations will have limited or few financial consequences. These ships are already required to comply with the Polar Code, and the new Regulations will mainly involve operational changes.




Statistics from the Governor of Svalbard show that the ship traffic and number of passengers have increased significantly from 2008 to 2018:



28 overseas cruise ships               Total number of passengers carried: 28,697

24 expedition cruise ships           Total number of passengers carried: 10,040



15 overseas cruise ships               Total number of passengers carried: 45,900

59 expedition cruise ships           Total number of passengers carried: 21,000